Imagine a community where resources are already tight; stigmas are high against those who struggle to do tasks that are easy for ordinary people and even the most basic medical and educational technologies are difficult to come by. These are some of the challenges facing people with disabilities who are living in developing countries around the world.
Since kids and teens with physical and mental disabilities don't have access to the care they need they often remain completely dependent on their families for the duration of their lives. By being a positive influence in the community and providing a resource that they would otherwise not have access to you can give people with disabilities a chance to gain the confidence and skills they need to grow into independent adults.
As a volunteer abroad, you will have the opportunity to be a part of something amazing and life changing. The main goal of most volunteer projects in disabled care is to give children and teens with disabilities a chance to learn and grow as an individual and as a member of the community.
This means that your work may involve tutoring kids with learning disorders to being a primary care giver to people who have severe physical and mental disabilities, and everything in between. Depending on the program you might also be working with children who are deaf, blind, or have multiple disabilities. Below is a list of some of the job descriptions you might encounter in your search for volunteer positions in disabled services:
- Primary caretaker: Provide care to severely disabled orphans or children whose parents and other family members need to work and cannot take care of them. Responsibilities may include feeding, washing, and changing children and teens with multiple disabilities.
- Educator/tutor: Help children learn basic English skills and problem solving strategies that make it easier for them process information.
- Coach: Play games with children who have disabilities with the goal of improving children's confidence and social skills.
- Physical therapist: Help children improve their physical mobility through exercises and games.
- Mentor: Be a mentor to older children who have physical and mental disabilities and need a positive role model in their lives.
Planning Your Trip
Volunteer abroad programs working with disabled children are most prevalent in countries that lack the resources to provide high-quality assistance to those with physical and mental disabilities. This primarily means countries in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central/South America including (but not limited to) Tanzania, India, Peru, Ghana, Costa Rica, and Vietnam. Actual work responsibilities will vary based on the needs, culture, and history of each region but usually involve working with nonprofit organizations to address the lack of special education programs and medical services catered towards these groups.
There are a number of different programs available for volunteering abroad in disabled care services. Below are a few resources to use as a starting point in your search for finding the perfect program:
Cross-Cultural Solutions: Cross-Cultural Solutions has volunteer options available in many different countries and areas of work. For example, volunteers in India may work with a local nonprofit to address the lack of special education available whereas in Bangkok they may work with organizations that provide life-skills training to people with disabilities who would not have access to such trainings otherwise. Both short- and long-term volunteer programs are available with Cross-Cultural Solutions.
Volunteering Solutions: Volunteer solutions sends volunteers to Shanghai, Beijing, Singpore, and other areas of Southeast Asia. Their primary mission is to take care of children who have severe physical and mental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and (in certain locations) children who were affected by Agent Orange. Both short-term and long-term programs are available (ranging from 1 week to 6 months) and programs have flexible start and end dates.
Experiential Learning International: Volunteer in Chile, Ecuador, Vietnam, or Poland with children who have developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol disorder, fragile X syndrome, and other such disorders. Responsibilities are different at each location but may involve anything from planning day-to-day activities to assisting with basic physical therapy.
IES Global: IES Global runs short-term volunteer programs (3-12 weeks) in Beijing working with blind and visually impaired children. This may include living in a foster home and helping children learn skills such as playing music, gardening, or being an extra pair of hands to aid with individual and group projects on a day-to-day basis.
Projects Abroad:Volunteers with Projects Abroad will work at rehabilitation centers in and around Hanoi, Vietnam to provide physical therapy, education, and nursing care to for children with a wide range of disabilities. This may include basic responsibilities such as washing, feeding, and changing younger children, or it may include playing games or teaching basic English skills to older children.
Contributed by Jessica Scarfuto